This is a photo of my studio. It is a place of refuge for me. And sometimes it’s my livelihood. I know a handful of other artists who love art with the same passion and commitment as myself. All of us have other means of financial support other than our art. We have to. It’s expensive to be an artist. There is studio rent, paint, canvases, brushes, professional photography of our work, material costs for prints, shipping materials, website overhead, and finally, the brutal 50/50 split with galleries. If I ask for $1,200 for a painting, I will only see $600 of that and I typically have to wait for 2 months for a gallery to deliver a check. The canvas, paint, photography, and wiring and framing hardware cost approximately $200. That leaves me with $400 at the end of it. My studio rent is $350 per month. And let me just say that in Fairbanks, there aren’t that many people who are willing to spend $1,200 on a painting. Especially when they can buy a “print” (it’s really just a poster, people!) for $250 or so.
So what’s an artist to do? Hustle. Beg. Bargain. Cajole. And hope that someone likes your work enough to buy or commission a work.
Why It’s Philanthropy: Philanthropy is the effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations. I in no way think that art can replace a meal, or a home, or assistance to battered women. There are millions and millions of suffering human beings on this planet, and I say we should ALWAYS lend a hand to those in need.
However (I say this in a small quiet voice) perhaps art feeds our starving souls? Perhaps it reminds us (all of us) that even though we suffer, there is still something beautiful, joyful even, about the triumph of the human spirit. I know that so much of what our culture deems “fine art” can be disturbing, alienating, and downright irritating. But there are many of us who paint or draw or carve out of an authentic place. A place that isn’t shocking or edgy, it isn’t revolutionary or avant garde, and it won’t piss off a church and it doesn’t make a political statement. Speaking for myself here, I want only to remind myself, and in turn others, that when we create, when we add color and form to the void, we do something that is inherently and unerringly human. We put it on the walls of our home or on the desktops of our computers, or we sent it to friends in the mail…and we do it because for a very small moment in our day, that pronoun, the “it” of art, reminds us that we are beautiful. And the human experience, although painful and dark, is survivable. It matters. Something matters. You matter.
When we think of philanthropy, most of us think of the non-profit organization, the tax-deductible status. What I want people to consider here is the idea that perhaps when we buy a piece of art, we buy a kind of insurance for ourselves. We insure that the artist will work for one more hour, or one more day. That the artist will add one more beautiful thing to the world. Most of you probably have no idea just how much you matter to an artist. In 2004 I lost my studio and nearly my soul because I couldn’t sell that ONE painting. I had a dry spell, and if someone had bought even a single painting, I would have been able to keep going.
So here are some things for the art buying public to remember:
1. Every time you buy art (especially originals) you keep an artist working a little longer. And that artist is making the world a more tolerable place to live (this is only true if you actually like looking at the artwork of said artist).
2. Artists ALWAYS need work. We need commissions and sales and shows. We need money. But we’re not buying crack with it and we’re not buying Lear Jets. We’re buying paint and paying our rent so that we can keep panting.
3. The painting is too expensive? Offer what you can afford. I might ask $4500 for a painting, but if I’m having a rough month, $1000 sounds GREAT. Hell, some days $500 sounds like a fair deal.
4. Buy right out of the artist’s studio. When you buy out of a gallery, the artist only sees 50% of whatever you paid. Galleries need support too, but if we’re talking philanthropy…go straight to the artist’s studio. Trust me, a good artist (and one who wants to keep working) will welcome you and she will give you a glass of wine and tell you how much she likes your shoes.
So get out there and buy some art. It’s good for humanity. It’s good for your soul. And come on, a painting will last you a lifetime, and your support could be the very thing that allows an artist to work long enough to matter in the art world, which means your painting will be worth big bucks someday.